Google is little more than a decade old, but look at the impact it has already had on our lives. It processes more than 70 percent of all searches on the web and generates $20 billion in annual advertising revenue. It is the site of choice not only to search the Internet, but to correspond by Gmail, to get driving directions on Google Maps, to make a free phone call using Google Voice or even to watch a video on YouTube, which Google acquired in 2006. The search engine is so ubiquitous, in fact, that it has become a verb; people don’t conduct a search anymore, they “google.”
Author Ken Auletta tackles the phenomenal growth of Google in his new book, Googled: The End of the World as We Know It. The title is provocative, but misleading. This is no treatise on how Google has become Big Brother. Auletta’s book, rather, is a fairly straightforward biography of Google and its founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page. He takes a chronological approach, recounting how the pair met at Stanford, how they began their venture in a spartan Silicon Valley office building and how they never lost sight of their vision to become the world’s largest media company. The year-by-year account of Google’s growth can be tedious at times, but Googled does provide some intimate details of a company notorious for its secrecy. That’s because Auletta had unprecedented access to GooglePlex, the Mountain View, California, headquarters where Google now employs 20,000 people. Thus, we have an opportunity to sit in on the free-wheeling Friday afternoon Q&A sessions between Brin, Page and their employees. We witness the tough hiring process, where applicants are told they have a better chance of being accepted to Harvard than getting a job at Google. And we get a taste of the hubris of Google, where its engineers believe that any challenge can be overcome with a mathematical algorithm.
If there is a shortcoming to Googled, it’s that it doesn’t take as critical a look at the company as suggested in its subtitle. But overall, Googled does deliver an insider’s look at a dynamic company that, for better or worse, has changed our lives.
John T. Slania is a journalism professor at Loyola University in Chicago.